Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis waded with characteristic caution into California politics Friday, campaigning with a steadiness that underlined his apparent intention to make the June 7 primary more an affirmation of his nomination than a conventional election.
The Democratic front-runner chose sympathetic student audiences for low-key speeches on education, and all but shrugged off the harshest verbal assault to date from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who lumped Dukakis with Vice President George Bush as a candidate who "almost brags about putting forth no plans."
Questioned about the comments at a news conference in Daly City, near San Francisco, Dukakis responded mildly, saying only: "I have made major speeches, issued dozens and dozens of position papers that outline my views on a whole range of issues.
Nothing in Common
"Anybody who knows my record and knows my views about the economic future of this country and economic policy couldn't possibly believe that anything I said has anything in common with Reagan and his Administration," Dukakis said.
Later, after an address at Cal State Long Beach, Dukakis reiterated: "I think it is very important that we keep the campaign strong and positive." But he added the reminder that "while Jesse Jackson and I have occasionally had differences of opinion, we share lots of the same goals and values."
The serene language reflected the abiding optimism with which Dukakis and his advisers view the California campaign. Some advisers exhibited impatience when asked about Dukakis' primary prospects against Jackson, preferring to speculate about the shape of a general election contest against Bush.
Dukakis was careful to remind the Cal State audience: "Please don't make the mistake of assuming that somehow it's all over, because it isn't." But he continued: "For one thing, if we do well here, we can come very close to locking up the nomination on or about June 7," and moved on quickly to proclaim: "I firmly believe that we can put California in the Democratic column in November."
Similarly, when asked whether he would consider choosing a running mate who had voted in favor of aid to rebels in Nicaragua--a policy Dukakis vigorously opposes--the candidate first said it was too early to talk about such matters.
But he added: "There's no way under the sun that I could possibly pick a running mate who agreed with me on every single question. I'm not going to be looking for a clone of Michael Dukakis."
Tone of Incumbency
Meanwhile, Dukakis' address on education here Friday--like his speech on public service at a mock Democratic convention for high school students Thursday night in Portland, Ore.--bore the unmistakable tone of incumbency, marked by adherence to a prepared text and peppered with preliminary partisan jabs.
The preferred new target was the reported reliance by First Lady Nancy Reagan on astrology for guidance in presidential scheduling. The first reference came late Thursday night in Portland, as Dukakis proclaimed that "eight months from now . . . we'll be putting away our horoscopes," and joked that the nation's future "doesn't depend on the alignment of the stars."
Advisers had half-seriously worried whether the line would play well in astrology-friendly Southern California, and it appeared to have been shelved when Dukakis made no mention of the stars at the Daly City High School. But it was back by afternoon in Long Beach, with Dukakis pleading: "I really don't know a horoscope from a telescope, to tell you the truth."
In his more sober comments on the issue of the day, Dukakis reiterated a call for a National Partnership on Educational Excellence that would promote teaching, curb adult illiteracy and expand opportunities for young people to attend college.
In avowing the importance of education, Dukakis twice used the word tax. But he recoiled when asked if that meant he would levy new federal taxes to pay for the programs.
"No, it takes taxes at the state and local level, as I think we all know," said Dukakis, who has insisted throughout his campaign that he would raise taxes only as a last resort.
Dukakis did not make clear how large an increase in federal spending such a program would require, but indicated that the figure would fall far short of the $20-billion increase in the education budget called for by Jackson.
"You can't go around talking about $20 billion more for public education out of the federal budget if you've got a $170-billion deficit," Dukakis said in Daly City. "That doesn't make any sense."